Lisa Frankly “Smells Like a Girl”
1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professionally directed work was an original folk opera called The Dryway, about three mermaid sisters cursed to exile on land by their mother. It was featured in the 2016 Company Creation Festival at Son of Semele in Los Angeles. This piece was deeply personal for me – not only was it my first professional directing job, but I developed and wrote the script, composed seven original songs, produced, and performed in it. I even played an electric guitar in front of an audience for the first time. These days I prefer to limit the number of hats I wear on a single creative project, but The Dryway was an invaluable learning experience. I’ll never regret shooting myself out of a cannon on my first try.
2) How did you get into directing?
I got into directing because I had a story to tell and images in my head, and I wasn’t hearing that story or seeing those images anywhere else. If you want something done right, you have two choices: call an expert, or become one yourself. For me, all roads lead to directing. I’m an artistic jackknife: I have a background in writing, visual art, music, and international relations, an MFA in acting, and a passion for storytelling and community building. Directing lets me use every tool in the box.
3) What is your most recent project?
My most recent project is also my first independent film project. My partner and I write feminist punk rock for children under the name Lisa Frankly. We self-produced our first music video for one of our favorite original songs, “Smells Like a Girl,” and released it in March of 2018 on International Women’s Day.
The video features the world’s most awesome seven-year-old smashing a dinosaur piñata (and the patriarchy), expressing a multitude of personalities, and playing every instrument in the garage. This was a passion project for me that came with the unexpected bonus of converting our sad, adult, political rage into something joyful.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
The best part of being a director? Subjecting everyone around me to my sense of humor, and assembling the perfect team for any given project. I get to work with such talented artists and producers. Building a creative community always feels like delicate alchemy. If I go in with a clear, specific vision, but trust the individual artistry of my team, the process is a pleasure and the collaboration turns into gold.
I also love unexpected feedback. A classroom of 4th graders watched “Smells Like a Girl” and wrote us letters. If you want honest feedback, or irrefutable proof that representation in film matters, ask a room full of 8-year-olds. They have the keys to the universe, and they don’t pull any punches.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
I don’t think directing has a worst part – but for me the hardest part is letting go. Eventually, whether it’s theatre or film or music or writing, you have to let go of your work. You have to stop making changes, hit export, press send, let the actors take it and run, and show your whole heart to the world. Letting go of the reins can be scary, but I usually find that if I’m afraid, I’m also on the right track.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
My day job is in advertising, so I have a healthy respect for the strategic and creative efforts that make great commercial work. This is a language I know how to speak, and I welcome the opportunity to take on more directing work for great brands.
That said, my main focus is on narrative work that lifts alternative voices and tells stories from the margins. I’m currently in pre-production for a short film I’ve written with themes surrounding female friendship, childhood sexuality, and things that happen when the grown-ups aren’t watching.
I’m always looking for ways to subvert and surprise an audience within the confines of a genre. My favorite place to work is right on that fine line between laughing and crying.
7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
My first and best mentors are my parents. My mother is a director and producer, my father is a social worker and a performing artist, and their constant creativity, compassion, and refusal to slow down even for a second is a daily inspiration.
I also feel deeply lucky to have been surrounded by the creative community of CalArts. My artist-professors and fellow students challenged me to dig deep and find my own creative voice, and I still work with them years later. They taught me that it’s possible to work with rigor, specificity, and respect for craft while still fostering a sense of community, and staying lighthearted. It’s such a privilege to be able to do this work. It’s important to remember to enjoy it.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
I am a huge Jill Soloway fan. Their work on Transparent and I Love Dick made me ache – it’s so dark, funny, and self-aware. They’re exploring so many ideas I’m interested in: spirituality and religion, family, inherited trauma, women and non-binary centered narratives, privilege, what it means to be an artist in a society that doesn’t always value its artists… I also love that their work lives beyond the screen. The curated content of wifey.tv has a mission to elevate new work and alternative voices, and I love feeling connected to a wider community of feminist artists.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
These days I’m re-falling in love with music videos, which is partly why I decided to shoot one. I am so excited by musical artists exploring longer narratives through musical short films: Beyonce’s Lemonade in 2016, Janelle Monae’s brand new Dirty Computer…even in the land of branded content, Spike Jonze’s latest commercial for Apple’s HomePod featuring FKA Twigs and Anderson Paak was gorgeous.
But my real favorite move? I can’t help it. I’ve seen Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version of Little Women one hundred times.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Port Chester, NY and moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to study Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College. Since then, I’ve been a sex education teacher, a line cook on an island in New Hampshire, I’ve worked in fundraising, I’ve taught kids writing and puppetry, I’ve been a production coordinator on big commercial shoots and a performing artist in experimental theatre and environmental Shakespeare. I currently write ad copy, work as a voiceover artist, and run a creative collective called The Outpost. My path has been full of twists and turns, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Everywhere I’ve been informs what I make.
Emma Zakes Green
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